Why running may not be effective for everyone

Dr. David Merrill, a geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center in Santa Monica, California, who was not involved in the current research, spoke with Medical News Today about the study.

“This is an important study,” Dr. Merrill began before explaining how antidepressants and running can impact the brain.

“Both antidepressants and running increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain. BDNF is an important neuroplasticity-enhancing molecule important in maintaining a normal mood,” he said.

Depressive states may lead to lowered levels of BDNF, which can be corrected by medications or exercise. Dr. Merrill said ideally, patients can try a combination for “synergistic benefits.”

“Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is like Miracle Grow for the brain; that’s one reason why regular physical movement is so important for brain health.”
— Dr. David Merrill

When Dr. Merrill elaborated on the study findings, he said he wished more people would have stuck with the exercise protocol.

“It’s disappointing to see how many dropped out of the exercise intervention. It’d be nice to know why so future interventions could be modified to increase the odds of successfully starting and maintaining a workout regimen to improve mood,” he said.

Dr. Ryan Sultan, a board certified psychiatrist, therapist, and professor at Columbia University in New York City, who was also not involved in the study, spoke with MNT about the findings.

“The topic of depression treatment has always been at the forefront of psychiatric discussions, and this new study offers intriguing insights into the comparative effects of running and antidepressants on treating this condition,” he said.

While Dr. Sultan found the study intriguing, he did note that there is not a “one-size-fits-all approach” to treating depression.

“While both running and antidepressants seem effective in treating depression, it’s essential to understand that every individual’s needs and responses can vary. It’s always crucial to consult with a medical professional before making decisions about treatment options.”
— Dr. Ryan Sultan